Pop artists sometimes get a bad rap these days, but Philly native Payson Lewis is fighting back.
Armed with his intoxicating positive energy, he delivers music that you can’t help but move to. Lewis’ brand is a garden of ‘80s- and ‘90s-influenced pop hooks, feel-good vibes and live-your-best-life mentality.
His new single, though, has a far deeper meaning and message. “Sound of a Voice” is an inspirational call to action to use your voice in advancing and supporting the Black Lives Matter movement’s fight against discrimination and inequality, was released late last month. All of the profits from the track will go to organizations in support of social justice.
A Philly kid born and raised, Lewis was brought up on a steady diet of his older brothers’ old cassette tapes and mom’s gluten-free cooking. Eventually, he found his way to Los Angeles to study music at USC.
His infectious charisma and natural knack for show business led him to plenty of television appearances in LA. His acting credits include episodes of “How I Met Your Mother,” “Revenge,” “The People vs. OJ Simpson” and “Rules of Engagement.”
While acting is certainly a powerful asset within Lewis’ wheelhouse, his first love and ultimate mission is music. He has generated an impressive buzz, not to mention thousands of subscribers, through his popular YouTube channel.
PW recently caught up with Lewis to talk about the new music and his career.
Let’s start with the new single, “Sound of a Voice,” that was released recently. What inspired you to write it? How did it all come together in terms of the recording process? Where can your fans hear the song?
It would be almost impossible to turn a blind eye to what is happening in our country right now. We’re neck-deep in trying to deal with two horrific and deadly diseases; COVID-19 and deep-seated systemic racism. It’s the latter that inspired this song.
I penned “Sound of a Voice” within 48 hours of the murder of George Floyd. With the sounds of helicopters circling overhead and sirens streaming in my window from protests all over the city, I couldn’t help but wonder whether I had been part of the problem or part of the solution and which I’d be moving forward. So, I wrote this song in the hopes of inspiring others, like me, who never fully understood their role or place in fixing a system that has been so egregiously unfair and utterly broken, to listen, learn, and act to make a positive change. It’s my intention to do my part and encourage more people to do the same.
The recording process was unique in a number of ways. First of all, my feedback circle on most songs is pretty small, usually just me, my producer (Ben Soldate), and maybe my girlfriend. However, given the subject matter, I opened my circle up to a much larger group of people. I reached out to about 20 of my BIPOC friends to make sure that, both lyrically and stylistically, I wasn’t being tone-deaf or appropriating in any way. One of the great benefits of doing this, besides their creative input, was being able to have conversations that informed me of things I had been blind to and ways that I could improve my field of vision. It’s amazing how much you can learn just by listening.
Also, this was the first song I wrote and recorded completely remotely. I was working from my bedroom here at my place here in Hollywood, and my producer was across town, sharing his screen and working in his studio in Burbank. We had a lot of technical hurdles to clear doing everything over the internet and on a slight delay, but I’m really happy with the way it ended up sounding and proud of what we were able to accomplish given the current COVID climate.
If you want to hear the song, you can literally listen to it anywhere you get music these days. It was an option with my distributor to “deliver to ALL stores,” and I definitely checked that box. So, Spotify, Apple Music, YouTube, Amazon music, you name it, it’s on there.
You grew up in Philly. Did the city’s music scene influence your career? Are there any Philly artists who made a special impact on your music?
Probably the first Philly artists that I, like, worshipped and looked up to was Boyz II Men. My older step-brother first introduced them to me, and I couldn’t get enough of their records; “Cooleyhighharmony,” “II,” and “Evolution” especially. Their harmonies and songwriting, to this day, are some of my all-time favorites. So, it was a really amazing moment for me when I got to meet and work with Shawn Stockman while I was on “The Sing-Off.” I remember running into him at Target after we had finished filming and he called my name to get my attention while I was checking out and then apologized for interrupting me and I told him, “You’re Shawn Stockman, you can literally interrupt me ANY time you want!”
“I penned “Sound of a Voice” within 48 hours of the murder of George Floyd. With the sounds of helicopters circling overhead and sirens streaming in my window from protests all over the city, I couldn’t help but wonder whether I had been part of the problem or part of the solution and which I’d be moving forward.”Singer/songwriter Payson Lewis
You’re kind of a jack of all trades: singer, songwriter, actor. How has the pandemic and all of the closures associated with it affected your career? How have you spent your downtime?
Honestly, the impact has been pretty profound. Outside of my own home recording and songwriting, there’s not much on the horizon at the moment. The live music industry has been hit particularly hard by this pandemic, so I’ve been having to figure out some new ways to keep working.
Thankfully, being a songwriter and independent artist, there have still been projects for me and things to keep me busy, but it’s been hard not being able to perform. One of the main reasons I became a musician is to share it with people live. There have been so many concerts that have been cancelled or postponed that almost every musician I know has been forced to find new ways to work or new creative outlets. Hopefully, when we come out the other side of this one, we can get back to playing live and providing people the kind of escape into music that we all need so badly right now.
But in the meantime, my day-to-day, I imagine, is a lot like everyone else’s. I’m home all day. I hang out with my dog and my girlfriend. I try to avoid eating everything in the fridge, and if I’m lucky I manage to exercise a few times a week.
Social media, streaming services, the internet in general have changed the way artists not only distribute their music, but also how they interact with their fans. How did technology in general help to advance your career? Do you enjoy interacting with your fans on social, or can it be a burden at times?
The way I can now interact with fans and people all over the world is one of my favorite things about the way the internet has changed this industry. It’s fascinating to me to see the way that my music has reached across oceans and continents. There are no longer any geographic limits. Music is now truly universal and boundaryless. I love getting to talk to people in Brazil, Singapore, Dominican Republic, Indonesia, etc. I love seeing that my song is trending in Taipei or Sydney. I feel like I get to travel and learn a little bit about these different places while I’m sitting having my morning coffee.
What’s ahead for you after the pandemic passes? More music? Appearances? Acting gigs?
At this point, I have no idea. I just want it to pass. I mean, of course I’ll keep on making music, and hopefully if everyone finally starts to take this seriously and wears a mask and listens to the qualified experts we can get back to playing concerts, making music videos etc. We just all have to suck it up and take one for the team on this one. The sooner we all start looking out for each other, the sooner we can get back to “normal.” Until we start doing that, though, it’s tricky for me, just like everyone else, to make plans too far in the future.
What are the best ways for your fans to keep up with what you’re doing?
Like most artists, I use Instagram (@paysonlewis) the most but I’m also on Facebook for all you boomers, and I just made a TikTok for all the Gen Zers out there. Although I admit, I’m still trying to figure out the app. Or you can just head to paysonlewis.com and link to all the good stuff there.